I know that for most readers, the words “National Geographic” don’t conjure anything very exciting. Interesting, sure. Many of us grew up amid stacks of the yellow-bordered periodical in our living rooms or stored carefully in our basements, thumbing through the pages to learn about Pharaohs or Incan gold or Hawaii’s big waves and to ogle the often-stellar photos (with or without our parents hovering). But exciting? Not so much. About a year ago, after decades of not reading NG, I decided to get a subscription. Now, I wouldn’t say reading it is as scintillating as being at a rave or atop a big wave on a surfboard may be (neither of which I’ve experienced), but it is almost always really interesting.
And less, how can I say it, hoary than I remember? (OK, I am just a bit older now.) Today’s NG delves much further into socio-economic realities, equity, poverty, sustainability, and other essential issues than I ever recall it doing before. As if it realized that we, the junior high schoolers, could take–indeed, needed–more reality, semi-unvarnished (the photos are still incredibly glossy).
I’d highly recommend checking out two recent editions: the first is a whole issue devoted to China. Lots on the environment and the toll of industrialization, China’s building and consumption booms, and the diversity of China’s peoples. Just one nugget: 37% of people driving cars in China today didn’t know how to drive three years ago…and 1,000 new cars a day take to the road in Beijing.
The other is the current issue, with the very 21st century title, “Who Murdered the Mountain Gorillas” emblazoned over a portrait of a silverback in Congo. Note that NG uses “murdered,” implying personhood, rather than the more generic term “killed,” much more usually used when referring to non-human animals. The article on the seven mountain gorillas slaughtered in 2007 reads like a political and ecological thriller, but with substance. It delves into the complex factors that put gorillas at risk in Congo’s Virunga National Park and the complex factions in whose hands their lives rest (from charcoal traders to a warlord who professes to be a conservationist to noble rangers–and at least one park ranger suspected of being extremely unnoble). The photos are stunning, and also harrowing.
You can also support the rangers’ work. Now, I don’t store the new old NG’s in a basement anymore, but before I pass them along, I do tend to find myself reading them (almost) yellow-bordered cover to cover.